Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Taryn Hatcher and Jordan Hall.
The topic: Debating the biggest surprise so far of the Flyers' 2019-20 season, good or bad.
I’m not going to lie, I expected this season to play out pretty much the way it had been leading up to last week until everything was put on pause — that, I had no way of predicting.
However, one of the biggest surprises of the season (and I mean this in the best way possible) was when the Flyers visited Washington for the first time. The biggest topic of conversation was how the “Great Eight,” Mr. Alex Ovechkin, was just two goals shy of 700 for his career. It’s a huge accomplishment that he eventually reached a few games later, but this game? This game became all about Claude Giroux.
Not only did the Flyers go into the barn of the best team in the Metro and blow it away, Giroux collected his 800th career point. It was a nice change of pace to see Giroux getting the recognition he rightfully deserves.
While there have been many surprises with this team for a lot of positive reasons, the goalies have stunned me the most.
Who knew the tandem of Carter Hart and Brian Elliott would work out so well? Of course there were high expectations on Hart to be the solid hope for the Flyers this season. There also came expectations for Brian Elliott, who entered 2019-20 battling back from an injury-prone season last year.
Both have exceeded expectations.
Flyers fans won’t forget the goalie scene last year when the orange and black started a record-setting eight goaltenders. Fortunately, that’s not the case this season. The Flyers now find themselves in a position in which it’s sometimes questioned who would be in net at different points of the schedule — both are that reliable.
The way this tandem has made the biggest impact is when it started a home/away trend, which really came to fruition in the second half of the season.
That trend, explained in the numbers:
• Hart at home — 20-3-2, 1.63 GAA, .943 save percentage
• Elliott on road — 12-5-2, 3.04 GAA, .896 save percentage
Another positive was how Elliott took over the reins during the time Hart was out two to three weeks in mid-January with a right lower abdominal strain. Those are the times you really rely on your No. 2 — Elliott took care of business, going 5-1-1 during that time with a .916 save percentage.
The duo has worked out so well in the times the Flyers needed it most. Hart will tell you he doesn’t mind the healthy competition, he likes how Elliott makes him better, in practice and in games. Elliott also is an NHL veteran who brings a sense of leadership to the Flyers.
Both have significant roles in many different ways and they both have been a bright spot for the orange and black.
As the Flyers near the end of the regular season and have their sights set on the playoffs, they are in good hands with Hart and Elliott. If/when they do make the postseason, I see them leaning on one goaltender, but until then, the tandem lives on.
My biggest surprise is Matt Niskanen — stick with me on this one.
These days Niskanen is the “Steady Eddie” of the team. He brings a veteran calmness and accountability to the dressing room. He has also been credited universally by the Flyers’ coaching staff as a key component to Ivan Provorov’s success with the two blueliners paired together this season.
But, if we rewind to that faithful June day, when Chuck Fletcher made a one-for-one swap that sent Radko Gudas to the Capitals in exchange for Niskanen (and retaining some of Gudas’ salary), the reaction that followed was a bit less than optimistic. Phrases like “lateral move” and “past his prime” came up quite bit.
Well, the 33-year-old has certainly iced those hot takes. Not only has he been important in the development of Provorov’s game, he’s also a critical member of the Flyers’ special teams and is currently a plus-15 with eight goals and 25 assists, putting him on track for his best season since 2013-14 if/when the Flyers play out the rest of their schedule.
Pretty good for a guy “past his prime.”
The Flyers had a lot of faces in the picture for bottom-six jobs entering the 2019-20 season.
The names included Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, German Rubtsov, Carsen Twarynski, Connor Bunnaman, Chris Stewart, Mikhail Vorobyev, Andy Andreoff, Kurtis Gabriel and Isaac Ratcliffe.
While Nicolas Aube-Kubel was definitely in the mix, not many pinned him as a lead candidate to win a job during the stretch run of the season.
On Dec. 15, Aube-Kubel was summoned by the banged-up Flyers out of sheer necessity. Many players were called up before him. Since his recall, the 23-year-old winger has played in 36 of the Flyers' 37 games, solidifying his role with an energetic and opportunistic style.
This season, he has put up seven goals and eight assists in 11:17 minutes per game, even earning power play time. Last season, he went scoreless in his nine-game stint with the big club, playing only 5:35 minutes per night.
“Last year, I didn’t really get a good chance to show what I could do," Aube-Kubel said last month. "I’m glad this year … even in my first game, I got put in a good situation with good players and it worked out for me.
"I know I have to give 100 percent. I can’t have a bad game. Even if I was on the second line, third line, fourth line, that’s my mindset — can’t have an off game.”
The 2014 second-round draft pick has helped himself ahead of restricted free agency this offseason.
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